Biodiversity and ecosystem services at the heart of corporate accounting

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Case study: BWB’s wastewater treatment plant in Berlin

After one year during which all glances were directed to climatic change issues, with its paroxysm at Copenhagen’s conference last December, 2010 will be the year dedicated to biodiversity. Attentions will this time be focused on the tools needed to stop its global homogenization.

Eager to respond to the concerns of their stakeholders in this context, many actors from the private sector continue their reflections and works regarding the integration of biodiversity into their corporate strategies.

This is notably the case of Veolia Environnement which worked, in partnership with Orée, on identifying, from an accounting perspective, the links between biodiversity and ecosystem services (BES) and the activities of a wastewater treatment plant in Berlin (BWB[1]). This case study[2] falls within Phase 2 of the Working Group “Integrating biodiversity into corporate strategies” which aims to develop a management accounting framework for BES.

Building upon the paper by Houdet et al. (2009)[3] which deals with accounting for biodiversity and ecosystem services for both management and reporting purposes, the case study sought to quantify the accounting links between BES and the costs and revenues of Wassmannsdorf’s wastewater treatment plant. To that end, the authors identified (A) material flows of biodiversity used by the company (purchased or freely appropriated) and (b) the ecosystem (dis-)services which influence its activities and which are influenced by the latter.

The study shows that, to satisfy contractual performance criteria, BWB management is currently mainly involved with:

  1. the management of ecosystem services within wastewater treatment plants, that of water purification (40% of total operating costs at Wassmannsdorf’s plant) and sludge digestion (60% of total operating costs are related to sludge management, a significant share of which involves the digestion process) by microorganisms, and
  2. the quantity, content and delivery timing of wastewater entering WWTPs, which are influenced by various ecosystem (dis-)services within urban areas upstream.

So as to promote the diversity, variability and heterogeneity of living systems throughout the ecosystems with which the company interacts (Houdet et al., 2009)[4], the authors then explore complementary approaches so that BWB may systematically take biodiversity into account within its corporate strategies. In particular, they discuss:

  1. the promotion of ecological engineering techniques[5] to treat wastewater ;
  2. integrating green spaces managed by BWB into local ecological networks by managing them to reach BES targets negotiated with stakeholders ;
  3. including complementary contractual BES performance criteria into BWB’s contractual terms.

[1]Berliner Wasser Betriebe is a company operating in Berlin (public – private partnership). Veolia Environnement owns 49,9% of its shares.

[2] Accounting for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services From a Management Accounting Perspective, Gaël Gonzalez and Joël Houdet, Orée, 2009 – http://www.oree.org/docs/case-study-veolia-oree.pdf

[3] Joël Houdet, Charlotte Pavageau, Michel Trommetter, Jacques Weber, 2009. Accounting for Changes in Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services From a Business Perspective – Preliminary Guidelines towards a Biodiversity Accountability Framework. Novembre 2009, Ecole Polytechnique, CNRS, Cahier N°2009-44 – http://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/docs/00/43/44/50/PDF/2009-44.pdf

[4] Houdet, J., Trommetter, M., Weber, J., 2009b. Changing business perceptions regarding biodiversity: from impact mitigation towards new strategies and practices. Cahier no 2009-29. Ecole Polytechnique, Department of Economics. 28p. – http://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-00412875/en/

[5] See the work undertaken by GAIE – Groupe d’application de l’ingénierie des ecosystems – created in 2006 in Paris ; http://www.ingenierie-ecologique.org/ .

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